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Sudan's president, facing protests, looks for aid from Qatar

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In this handout photo from Qatar News Agency, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, center left, meets with with Qatar's ruling emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, in Doha Qatar, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019. Sudan's embattled president is in Qatar looking for support amid weekslong protests against his 29-year rule in the African nation. The two men are expected to discuss possible aid to Sudan, which is suffering from deep economic problems that sparked the protests. (Qatar News Agency via AP)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Sudan's embattled president on Wednesday met the ruler of the tiny, energy-rich nation of Qatar, likely looking for financial support amid weekslong protests challenging his 29-year rule in the African nation.

Both Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and Qatar's ruling emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, smiled as they shook hands and embraced at the Emiri Diwan in Doha.

Footage aired by Qatar state television showed the two later meeting at the palace, al-Bashir accompanied by an entourage of government officials on his first trip abroad since the protests began.

The state-run Qatar News Agency afterward said Sheikh Tamim discussed "various developments and challenges facing the republic," without elaborating. They also discussed cementing peace in Darfur, the western Sudanese region where security forces brutally crushed a rebellion.

The two leaders later attended a luncheon.

Sudanese officials had said in December that Sheikh Tamim promised in a telephone call that Qatar will "provide all that is needed" to help Sudan get through its crisis. Qatar at the time only acknowledged the phone call took place.

That request is likely to involve cash. Sudan lost three quarters of its oil wealth when the south of the country seceded in 2011, plunging the country into its worst economic crisis in decades.

A devaluation of the currency in October pushed up prices, but lifting state subsidies on bread last month proved to be the final stroke, sparking the latest bout of unrest. A cash crunch also led to long lines at ATMs and limits on cash withdrawals. Similarly, a fuel shortage meant hours-long waits at gas stations.

This led to street protests which erupted on Dec. 19 and later shifted to calling on al-Bashir's ouster. At least 40 have been killed in clashes.

On Wednesday, the U.S. condemned "the use of violence, including the use of live fire, and the excessive use of tear gas by the Sudanese security forces" during the protests.

The State Department said in a statement it urged authorities to end "arbitrary detention and excessive force against protesters" and "release all journalists, activists, and peaceful protesters."

Al-Bashir's trip cuts across the politics now roiling the Gulf Arab states.

Sudan has sent troops to support the Saudi-led war in Yemen, but now seeks aids from Qatar, which the kingdom and three other Arab states have been boycotting since June 2017 in a political dispute.

Al-Bashir was indicted in 2010 by the International Criminal Court for genocide in Darfur, where an insurgency erupted in 2003. To avoid arrest and repatriation to The Hague, the court's seat, he has restricted his travel to African and Arab nations.

In this Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019 handout photo from Qatar News Agency, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, center left, and his delegation are greeted by Qatari officials at Hamad International Airport, Doha Qatar. Sudan's embattled president is in Qatar looking for support amid weekslong protests against his 29-year rule in the African nation. Al-Bashir will meet Wednesday with Qatar's ruling emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. The two men are expected to discuss possible aid to Sudan, which is suffering from deep economic problems that sparked the protests. (Qatar News Agency via AP)
FILE - In this Oct. 25, 2011 file photo, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir attends the funeral of Saudi Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Sudan’s embattled president has flown to Qatar, the tiny but wealthy Gulf state that has offered him help as he faces protests initially sparked by the country’s economic woes but which soon shifted to calling on him to step down. Qatar’s official news agency said al-Bashir, in power since 1989, will meet Wednesday with the emirate’s ruler, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar, File)
FILE - In this Oct. 25, 2011 file photo, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir attends the funeral of Saudi Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Sudan’s embattled president has flown to Qatar, the tiny but wealthy Gulf state that has offered him help as he faces protests initially sparked by the country’s economic woes but which soon shifted to calling on him to step down. Qatar’s official news agency said al-Bashir, in power since 1989, will meet Wednesday with the emirate’s ruler, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar, File)
FILE - In this Oct. 25, 2011 file photo, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir attends the funeral of Saudi Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Sudan’s embattled president has flown to Qatar, the tiny but wealthy Gulf state that has offered him help as he faces protests initially sparked by the country’s economic woes but which soon shifted to calling on him to step down. Qatar’s official news agency said al-Bashir, in power since 1989, will meet Wednesday with the emirate’s ruler, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar, File)
In this Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019 handout photo from Qatar News Agency, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, center left, and his delegation are greeted by Qatari officials at Hamad International Airport, Doha Qatar. Sudan's embattled president is in Qatar looking for support amid weekslong protests against his 29-year rule in the African nation. Al-Bashir will meet Wednesday with Qatar's ruling emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. The two men are expected to discuss possible aid to Sudan, which is suffering from deep economic problems that sparked the protests. (Qatar News Agency via AP)
In this Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019 handout photo from Qatar News Agency, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, center left, and his delegation are greeted by Qatari officials at Hamad International Airport, Doha Qatar. Sudan's embattled president is in Qatar looking for support amid weekslong protests against his 29-year rule in the African nation. Al-Bashir will meet Wednesday with Qatar's ruling emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. The two men are expected to discuss possible aid to Sudan, which is suffering from deep economic problems that sparked the protests. (Qatar News Agency via AP)
In this handout photo from Qatar News Agency, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, center left, meets with with Qatar's ruling emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, in Doha Qatar, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019. Sudan's embattled president is in Qatar looking for support amid weekslong protests against his 29-year rule in the African nation. The two men are expected to discuss possible aid to Sudan, which is suffering from deep economic problems that sparked the protests. (Qatar News Agency via AP)
In this handout photo from Qatar News Agency, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, center left, meets with with Qatar's ruling emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, in Doha Qatar, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019. Sudan's embattled president is in Qatar looking for support amid weekslong protests against his 29-year rule in the African nation. The two men are expected to discuss possible aid to Sudan, which is suffering from deep economic problems that sparked the protests. (Qatar News Agency via AP)